Help for forest landowners — selling timber, preparing forest management plans, and more

A logger harvests a hemlock tree. Consider getting free forestry services before selling timber.
A logger harvests a hemlock tree. Consider getting free forestry services before selling timber. For the CDT

My wife and I own a small tract of forest in Centre County. A trout stream flows through the property and wildlife abounds. I live, hunt, fish and just thoroughly enjoy the property. It is my little piece of paradise. If you care about wildlife and forests, you might also own some acreage or have the desire to do so.

Several years ago, I was contacted by an Ivy League college and asked to join a discussion group made up of other central Pennsylvania forest landowners. It was a real eye-opener. Our group of about 15 people met at the Penn Stater on two different evenings. I soon learned that my 35 acres placed me in about the middle of the group.

No specifics will be included here — my purpose for mentioning this involves my observations about the group. Participants appeared to have an almost total lack of knowledge about the forest that they owned or of any services available.

Several had experienced timber harvests on their properties, although none had hired a consulting forester, put the timber up for bid, nor had a forest management plan. Not one member of the discussion group knew anything about the free forestry services available or why these services are important.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Centre County service forester Tim Cole said. “I would guess that not even 5 percent of the people even know what we do.”

Cole works for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, out of his Huntingdon office. He is one of about three dozen service foresters who provide free forestry services for landowners.

The mission of a DCNR service forester is to educate private landowners about proper forest management techniques and best management practices. Service foresters make “house calls.” They will come out to a private property and provide guidance and assistance in preparing a forest management plan. They can make recommendations, but they cannot be directly involved in the sale of timber.

A second option is to consult the Pennsylvania Game Commission. According to David J. Gustafson, Chief, Forestry Division Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, the Commission also offers a free service to landowners.

“We are supposed to refer folks to the list of Forest Consultants that DCNR publishes on their website,” Gustafson said. “However, that doesn’t mean that a landowner can’t reach out for some ‘technical guidance’ before getting a consultant involved.”

Since 2004, the Game Commission has had a Private Landowner Assistance Program to help landowners make their property more attractive to wildlife. Each Game Commission regional office has a Wildlife Diversity biologist that will visit an owner’s property and prepare a wildlife management plan. The Commission’s goal is to improve Pennsylvania’s habitat for species of special concern. Although the plans focus on species of concern, a wide variety of species often benefit from an implementation of the plan.

“I and the Regional Forestry staff work with those biologists to help develop forestry recommendations for those plans. After that is accomplished, the landowner would contact a consulting forester to implement the plan via a timber harvest,” Gustafson added.

Both Gustafson and Cole highly recommend that landowners interested in selling timber should use the services of a private consulting forester, rather than jumping at a first offer. Consulting foresters charge a fee — usually a percentage of the timber sale. However, they work for you and they will ensure that you get a fair deal when selling timber.

Owning a healthy forest is like having money in the bank. Each year, trees grow and provide “interest” on your investment in the land. For many years, I had been content to leave my “money” — the trees — in the bank. However, three years ago, I learned that part of my forest was not so healthy. The emerald ash borer was killing all of my many white ash trees, and some of the larger hemlock trees were in trouble from wooly adelgids.

Not wanting to see timber go to waste, I hired Jim Cowan, an independent forester with Alleghany Foresters and Consultants from Julian, to evaluate my property for a possible salvage timber sale. Cowan and I discussed my goals and then we walked the property twice. The first time, he performed a general evaluation, and during his second visit, we discussed why specific trees should or should not be marked for sale. I also approved potential paths for skid trails and the location of log landings.

Cowan marked and scaled each tree to determine the potential board feet of lumber. I received a list of the species, board feet and their approximate value. He then put the timber out for bid. A bid was accepted, my wife and I signed a contract, and we were paid before the first tree was cut. The contract included a performance bond, which guaranteed that my property would be graded and seeded after logging ended.

Some landowners might hesitate and want to avoid a professional’s fee. Cowan shared stories of Centre County landowners that he had represented. In many cases, by putting the timber out for bid, he obtained two to three times the money that the landowner was initially offered.

“In my 36 years of experience, I never had a case where I didn’t earn more for the landowner than he or she would have gained without paying the commission,” Cowan said.

Gustafson and Ryan Reed, a communications secretary at the DCNR Bureau of Forestry in Harrisburg, addressed an all-too-typical scenario where a logger or company timber buyer stops by and talks with landowners about selling their timber. In this case, there are few if any protections in place for the landowner and the result might not be best for the forest or wildlife.

“Many timber harvesters put profit ahead of the health of the forest,” Reed said. “They high-grade the property and cut all and only the largest diameter trees.”

Added Gustafson: “The common terminology of a ‘select cut’ is straight from the playbook of people looking to exploit the forest resource. A select cut might sound good, but what results is often long-term damage to forest and wildlife sustainability.”

Both Reed and Cole mentioned that both DCNR and the Penn State Extension have a wealth of printed and online resources for the forest landowner.

“At the very minimum,” Reed said, “I recommend that forest landowners talk with their local service forester before making any timber sale or management decisions.”

For Forestry Assistance

Contact Centre County Service Forester Tim Cole by email at ticole@pa.gov or via phone at 814-643-2340. You can also reach Mario Giazzon at the Game Commission Northcentral Office via email at mgiazzon@pa.gov and via phone at 570-660-2483.

Women’s Introductory Fly Fishing Program

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has teamed up with the State College YMCA to hold a Woman’s Into Fly Fishing Program on Feb. 24, at the State College YMCA, 677 West Whitehall Road, State College. The program runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Equipment is not necessary. Ladies will learn fly choice, knot tying, casting and more. Participants will leave with a fly-fishing booklet, a network of new fly-fishing friends and the opportunity to attend free on-water classes to be held throughout the year.

“It is a perfect opportunity to learn fly fishing basics and meet other ladies interested in fly fishing,” program organizer Amidea Daniel said.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required by Feb. 20. Contact Daniel at 814-359-5127 or adaniel@pa.gov.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com